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Jacopo FORONI (1825-1858)
Cristina Regina di Svezia (1849)
Liine Carlsson (soprano) – Cristina, Queen of Sweden;
Ann-Kristin Jones (mezzo-soprano) – Maria Euphrosina, secretly in love with Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie;
Kosma Ranuer (baritone) – Axel Oxenstjerna, Chancellor;
Iwar Bergkwist (tenor) – Erik, his son;
Daniel Johansson (tenor) – Gabriele (Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie), Cristina’s favourite and Maria’s lover
Fredrik Zetterström (baritone) – Carlo Gustavo (Carl Gustav), later Carl X Gustav;
Anton Ljungqvist (bass-baritone) – Arnoldo (Arnold) Messenius
Gustav Ågren (tenor) – Johan, his son (Cristina’s secret enemies)
Daniel Johansson (tenor) – Un pescatore (A fisherman)
Nina Ewald (soprano) – Voce interna
The Göteborg Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Tobias Ringborg
Rec. 2010, Sjöströmsalen, Academy of Music and Drama, Gothenburg University
Libretto with English translations enclosed
STERLING CDO1091/92-2 [57:25 + 72:07]

That the young Italian Jacopo Foroni came to Sweden was more or less a coincidence. An Italian opera company was touring Scandinavia during 1847 and 1848 with great success and after a series of performances in the south of Sweden they finally arrived in Stockholm where they remained for quite some time. When their conductor left the company Foroni was called in as a replacement. He was already known as a great talent and had composed an opera, Margherita, which was performed in Milan in March 1848. In Stockholm he conducted a wide variety of current Italian operas by Donizetti, Bellini, Rossini and Verdi and started work on a new opera about Queen Christina of Sweden. She was well known to the Swedish audiences, being the daughter of Gustav II Adolf who died in the Thirty Years War. She abdicated, converted to Catholicism and moved to Italy. The opera was premiered on 19 May 1849 and in the audience was the famous Hans Christian Andersen, who was enthusiastic about the opera in his autobiography. Foroni was a true vitamin injection to the musical life in Stockholm but suddenly died of cholera in 1858, aged only 33. He had by then performed several important works, including Beethoven’s Eroica and Schumann’s Second symphony, Mendelssohn’s Elijah and, in 1856, Wagner’s music for the first time - the Tannhäuser overture. His own training was solid and included knowledge of the central European tradition; Mendelssohn, Schumann and Liszt – which was rare among Italian composers of that era. He demonstrates his compositional skill in the overture, which in effect is an ambitious symphonic movement with skilful development of a theme, which in this case is a Swedish folk melody, Näckens polska, later also used by Ambroise Thomas in his opera Hamlet for Ophelia’s Act IV aria, written for the Swedish soprano Christina Nilsson, who was Ophelia at the premiere. In the overture – and elsewhere time after time – one can also admire Foroni’s colourful and inventive orchestration. Melodically he is strongly influenced by his predecessors Bellini and Donizetti, and also his 12-year older contemporary, Verdi. It should be remembered that when Foroni wrote this opera Verdi had not yet had his real artistic break-through with Rigoletto, Trovatore and La traviata.

The opera is divided in five parts and three acts and deals with real events and real characters in connection with Queen Christina’s abdication in 1654, but the librettist Giovanni Carlo Casanova has taken a lot of liberties concerning the chronology of the events. Wikipedia analyses this in detail for those with an interest in historical facts. For at least some Swedish opera goers, this cheating with facts may have been a hindrance for appreciating the opera, but for the Italian public it probably didn’t matter since Queen Christina was unknown to them. It was the following year that it was played in Trieste, and for that revival Foroni revised the work, making additions and also some cuts. What we hear in this recording is however the original version, and it was prepared for a concert performance at the Vadstena Academy in 2007. It has later been performed at the Wexford Festival in 2013 and as a concert performance in Cadogan Hall in 2014.

After the overture, which quickly became a favourite with me, a patriotic chorus greets the Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna and his son Erik, who have just returned from successful peace negotiations between the states of Europe after the Thirty Years War. This noble Hymn to Peace is worthy to stand comparison with similar choruses in Verdi’s patriotic early operas, Nabucco and I Lombardi. Generally speaking, Foroni makes the most of the drama which rarely comes to a standstill but moves on through long ensemble scenes and solos. Oxenstierna has a powerful aria following the chorus and it grows into an ensemble with most of the leading roles involved. Gabriele (Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie) sings a brooding romance (CD 1 tr. 5) when he understands that the Queen has decided to give away his secret love Maria to Erik Oxenstierna, and their ensuing duet is touching and beautiful. In fact this score is brimming with inspired music. Carlo Gustavo (later to become Carl X Gustav) has several solos. Just listen to Perché nel rivederti (CD 2 tr. 2) and, not least, the long scene in Act III between Carlo Gustavo and Cristina, possibly the high-spot in the whole opera (CD 2 tr. 10-13). But the whole opera is something of a revelation and it’s a mystery that it was un-played for more than 150 years. We have to be deeply grateful to Anders Wiklund who prepared this edition, to the Vadstena Academy for launching it in 2007 and to Bo Hyttner who made it available to a wider audience through this recording.

Tobias Ringborg, who has a genuine interest in unjustly forgotten Swedish music, leads a committed performance and his forces from the Gothenburg Opera support him enthusiastically. The young cast, most of them very early in their careers, are wholehearted advocates for their mission. Liine Carlsson is truly heroic in her demanding role as the Queen, with high-lying tessitura. Occasionally she is strained but she rises to the occasion in the second act, singing Alma rea (CD 2 tr. 8) regally and in the whole of Act III she is brilliant. Ann-Kristin Jones as Maria is warm and sincere. Daniel Johansson as Gabriele, today well established on the international circuit and recently named Royal Court Singer, sings with radiance and passion but also with lyrical warmth – and listen to his last phrases, when he believes he is going to be executed, his plangent tone deeply moving (CD 2 tr. 15). He also doubles as a Fisherman at the beginning of Act II. The scene is moonlit and the orchestral introduction paints the glittering waves magically. Unfortunately the off-stage singing becomes more or less drenched by the orchestra. Otherwise the recording balance is good. Kosma Ranuer’s Oxenstierna is excellent and well-articulated, and Fredrik Zetterström’s Carlo Gustavo is truly magnificent. Anton Ljungqvist’s black-tinted bass baritone is also magnificent in his threatening solo in Act II, Ascoltatemi tutti tal momento (CD 2 tr. 3).

It’s a shame that this wonderful opera has been collecting dust in the archives for so long. I do hope that it will be played on other stages in the future. If it doesn’t, this recording will be an excellent substitute. Readers with an interest in 19th century Italian opera should definitely give this work a chance.

Göran Forsling

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